Tanzania: MPs Fear People's Inability to Afford Health Insurance Rates

Dar es Salaam — The Parliamentary Committee on Social Services and Community Development yesterday said it was 'no walk in the park' for low-income families to afford the annual fees for the just-launched health insurance schemes as a matter of course.

As it is, the Committee's chairman, Mr Peter Serukamba, suggested at the launch of the new schemes for the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) that the fees be paid on monthly basis during the year. "I believe low-income families will be frustrated because they need to be part of the schemes but they can't afford to pay the feem in a lumpsum," Mr Serukamba said. He is the Kigoma North member of Parliament (CCM).

But, NHIF was quick to defend the clearly high fees for the schemes that target private and informal sector beneficiaries in a bid to push for universal health coverage. NHIF says the fees are reasonable - and that they reflect the high healthcare costs.

With the launch of the new schemes - dubbed 'Najali Afya, Wekeza Afya and Timiza Afya' - a single beneficiary from the informal sector would contribute less, starting from a minimum of Sh192,000 as an annual membership fee.

This is in comparison to Sh1.5 million which was previously charged per individual.

the NHIF director general, Mr Benard Kongwa, said: "In as far as treatment costs are very high nowadays, the fees for our health insurance schemes are very reasonable." Noting that there were various schemes, he said, prospective members had the right to choose among them, depending on their financial muscle.

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As it is, he did not promise cuts to their pricing as suggested by some people, but agreed to work with other stakeholders to find a solution. He said they were consulting various commercial banks to see the possibility for beneficiaries to pay the amount in installments, possibly on monthly basis.

"We will even go further, and talk with telecom companies for the same purpose," Mr Kongwa said.

Speaking when officiating at the launch of the schemes, the NHIF chairperson, Ms Anne Makinda, called on health service providers to improve services so that beneficiaries could get value for their money.

"I would urge that healthcare providers seriously revisit the costs of the health insurance schemes," said the former National Assembly Speaker.

The new schemes do not cover treatment costs for - among other ailments - some non-communicable diseases and other health conditions like cancer, hypertension, diabetes, heart and kidney complications.

Furthermore, the beneficiaries will have to fork out money to cover costs for diagnostic services - including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and CT-Scan in both private and public health facilities.

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